When I arrived in Arghandab District in the summer of 2010, as a platoon leader with the 1-320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Combat Outpost Nolen had been under siege for most of the early summer months by Taliban fighters occupying the village of Charqolba Olya. We started to gain momentum when we seized Charqolba Olya from the Taliban in August. Once we gained a foothold in Charqolba Olya, we slowly began pushing our patrols further to the south and increasing our sphere of influence in the area.
This did not come without cost. SPC L.J. Lugo, 1SG Nathan Bryant, and SFC Allen Manley all suffered serious wounds while conducting major combat operations from August through September. The difficulty in maneuvering a dismounted combat patrol in the Arghandab River Valley is two-fold: first, the terrain is nearly impassable for anything but a dismounted, walking force. Even still, to navigate safely means jumping countless grape rows, walking through waist deep canals, and scaling walls of various shapes and sizes to reach the population centers. Compounding the physical tolls of a dismounted combat patrol in the Arghandab River Valley is the constant danger of what one wrong step can cost you—the region is a minefield of buried Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
On patrol, you must constantly scan the ground under you along with the sector of fire in front of you. Avoiding heavily traveled routes and areas that might be prime locations for IEDs is more art than science. It is a slow and tedious process that can create a great deal of stress for soldiers and requires maximum attention from leaders at every level of a patrol.
Now we are in February, and those days of siege have given way to increased patterns of life and heavy civilian traffic on the roads that lead to most of our population centers and surround COP Nolen. Where we once walked, we now drive.
Through a great deal of sacrifice from our soldiers we have forged a new way of life in this small piece of the Arghandab River Valley. Constant patrolling and civil projects have created incentives for locals to realign their beliefs. Once supportive of the Taliban, local villages now deny their presence wholesale. I’m confident that all of this is the result of our soldiers’ actions in partnership with the Afghan National Army.
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